Cosmos 1, the world’s first solar sail spacecraft, has shipped in preparation for a launch window that opens on June 21, 2005, traveling from the test facility of Lavochkin Association in Moscow to Severomorsk, Russia. The innovative and first-of-its-kind solar sail, a project of The Planetary Society and Cosmos Studios, will launch atop a converted ICBM from a submerged Russian submarine. It will deploy in Earth orbit and attempt the first controlled flight of a solar sail.
“Reaching this milestone puts us on the doorstep to space!” said Louis Friedman, Planetary Society Executive Director and the Cosmos 1 Project Director. “We are proud of our new spacecraft and hope that Cosmos 1 blazes a new path into the solar system, opening the way to eventual journeys to the stars.”
The Planetary Society (http://planetary.org/solarsail/) is working with the spacecraft developers, the Lavochkin Association and the Space Research Institute in Russia, to fly this solar sail mission. Cosmos 1 was funded by Cosmos Studios (http://carlsagan.com), the science-based entertainment company led by Ann Druyan, who also serves as the solar sail mission’s Program Director. Additional donations from members of The Planetary Society helped make the mission possible.
“Launching Cosmos 1 on the day of the summer solstice is a great way to honor our ancestors and to continue the journey to the stars that they began,” said Druyan. “As the rays of the sun strike the ancient astronomical observatories of Stonehenge and Chaco Canyon, Cosmos 1 will rise from the sea into space to take its place in the great story of exploration.”
Cosmos 1 has attracted world-wide attention by being the first attempt at a revolutionary and potentially much faster way of moving through space, and because the project was created by an independent, non-profit organization and financed by a private company. The combination of solar sail technology coupled with a submarine-based launch opens the door for new and low-cost space systems in the future.
Once Cosmos 1 achieves Earth orbit, the mission team will spend the first few days monitoring the spacecraft and allowing any remaining air in the packed blades to leak out before deploying its eight solar sail blades. The pressure of photons – sunlight – bouncing off the highly reflective solar sail will provide the spacecraft’s only form of propulsion.
NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), Japan and Russia all have developed solar sails, but none has yet tried to prove that the sails can propel a spacecraft under controlled flight. Russia and Japan have conducted flight tests of deployment, while NASA and ESA have conducted ground test deployments, but thus far they have no test flights scheduled.
Two U.S. government agencies, NOAA and NASA, have signed cooperative agreements with The Planetary Society to receive valuable flight data from the solar sail mission. In return, the no-exchange-of-funds agreements permit the Society to utilize agency facilities and expertise in tracking and mission operations of Cosmos 1.
An experiment to accelerate the spacecraft with a microwave beam from Earth will be conducted during a later stage of the mission. Led by James Benford of Microwaves Sciences, Inc. and Prof. Gregory Benford of the University of California-Irvine, their team will use a NASA Deep Space Network radar antenna to send the beam to the spacecraft. The Planetary Society must approve the activation of the experiment and will do so only after the prime mission objective of controlled solar sail flight is achieved.
An international tracking network will receive mission data at stations scattered around the globe, from Moscow to Majuro in the Marshall Islands. The spacecraft will be tracked from the ground through its radio and an on-board GPS system and micro-accelerometer.
Solar Sail Watch, a program designed for the general public, will invite people around the world to help track Cosmos 1 and photograph its progress across the night sky. Once its sails unfurl, Cosmos 1 will be bright enough to be easily visible to the naked eye. The Planetary Society urges everyone to witness this historic mission first hand. Details on Solar Sail Watch are available at http://planetary.org/solarsail/watch.
The spacecraft will be launched on a Volna rocket to an approximately 800-km high, circular, near polar orbit.
Konstantin Pichkhadze, first deputy of Designer General and Director General of Lavochkin Association, stated, “The solar sail is an important step in development of space technologies. Now we are running through the final stage of this project, which became a reality thanks to the efforts of The Planetary Society and Cosmos Studios. Lavochkin Association has been creating automatic spacecraft since 1965 and performed the first soft landings on the Moon and Venus in the 1960’s and 70’s. Building the solar sail spacecraft has involved interesting and complicated problems, which we worked on solving with the Institute of Space Research of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The Lavochkin Association team developed a number of successful project and engineering solutions which helped us to create this small spacecraft to help conduct great space ventures.”